Listening To

Strange – “Souvenir Album”

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Shadoks Music has rescued yet another obscure recording for our enjoyment – Souvenir Album by Strange. The disc features eight songs proper and four segments of other tunes recorded from 1974 to 1978, and more than anything highlights the songwriting abilities of David Chamberlain, the band’s multi-instrumentalist and singer.

Even in their hometown of Olympia, Washington, Strange was far from a household name, and never really broke beyond playing local venues. By 1978, as Chamberlain was putting the material together for an actual album, Strange had disbanded. Still, Chamberlain waded through tapes of old material, committing the best bits to a master reel, and then handed them over to a gentleman named George Yantiss, “who had a small ‘record label’ in his home,” according to the liners. Yantiss “mastered” the tape and Chamberlain distributed copies for free to friends. Yantiss’ work will never be confused with the studio mastery of, say, Bob Ludwig or Alan Parsons, but the roughness around the edges gives Souvenir an odd grace, like the photos your parents took with an Instamatic camera.

The music ranges from early Pink Floyd to Jefferson Airplane to Neil Young and beyond. “Somebody” is a sorrowful ballad, that brings to mind Bill Fay and Nick Drake. Chamberlain’s guitar solo is masterful, an emotion-drenched line that tugs at the heart. Pianist Robert Rensel and bassist Carl Dexter add some lovely harmony vocals, as well. “The Ballad Of Hollis Spaceman” is a trippy number that brings together Syd Barrett and San Francisco rock, with a fantastic guitar workout from Chamberlain and Tom Hackett – these guys are players! “Four-Eyes” is Strange’s “Planet Caravan” replete with bongos and drippy electric piano notes. Rensel’s vocal on “A Faced Dream” is a treat, imbuing the tune with his clear and musical delivery. Drummer Rick Rackleff steps to the mic, as well, on his own ballad “Rick’s Song,” and proves more than able to take the lead. Although the sound quality isn’t great (it’s a copy of a copy) “Lies By Poetic License” is a stellar track, given a magical boost  by Rensel’s French horn. “Twelve Boats,” the sole Hackett composition here, is another minor-key laden tune that’s got more going on than is easily heard (it’s an audience recording), but it’s well worth some deep listening to hear it all. Chamberlain’s “The Last Song,” appropriately closes the record. This gorgeous lament sounds like a lost Procol Harum track and could have been a huge hit given some radio play. It would make a great addition to a soundtrack, too.

Strange’s Souvenir Album is one I’m glad to own, and makes me wish the band could go back in time and re-record these tunes on proper gear in a real studio. The songs and band members deserve that much, at least.

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